When your tour driver explains to you that there is no need to keep to the speed limits posted on stretches of road between the speed cameras, you can guess that he probably aspires to be an F1 driver one day. But when he speeds and talks to you with one hand on his mobile and the other clutching a can of red bull AND at the same time, using his knees to keep the steering wheel in check, it is probably not his aspirations you think about but how many cans of red bull he’s had so far. Thus, this desert dune-driving safari we signed up for was going to be a first.
After about forty five minutes driving Southwards from Doha and listening to possibly all of Moniem’s (our guide) favourite Arabic pop hits, we arrive at the Qatari desert with lots of other SUV’s already there. There’s plenty of banter and showmanship among the drivers before, Moniem, topped up with more red bull (seriously, he drinks it like water) and goes ahead with deflating the tyres a tad. This apparently helps with giving the tyres more grip on sand. Then, with shouts of yalah! yalah! (Let’s go in Arabic) we surged into the Qatari desert with five other 4wd’s all carrying passengers who like us have no clue what lies ahead! Like a shot from the Dakar rally, the 4wd’s fly along on flat bits whilst churning up clouds of dust behind them. Before long, we cross over onto sandy dunes and this is where it got interesting.
The dunes varied in sizes from small hills to little mountains. Moniem drove straight into them guiding the 4WD till it was at the crest of a huge dune and continued along tracing the wafer thin pinnacles. The vehicle rocked back and forth, contrasted only by the beautiful ocean in the backdrop against the desert. It was exciting. Just when we were getting comfortable with the rocking of the car, we pulled up at the top of a really large dune right close to edge which then has a sharp drop on our left to of about a hundred metres below. The drivers then shouted words in Arabic to one another which reminded me dreadfully close to that of school kids egging each other on. And then, off we went!
By this I meant I saw the first 4wd disappear right over the ledge to our left followed by the other cars!! It was so steep, I couldn’t even see where the cars had gone. All we could see were clouds of dust and sand and the horizon. We were the last. Moniem quickly wound up all the windows and turned the 4WD around. Did he chicken out and is taking another route? He did appear to have more sense than the others and possibly took the lives of his passengers more seriously.
We were wrong . . . He was merely picking another exit point and before we could ask any questions, he turned our entire car into the cliff, tilting all of us sideways as we slid downwards. We hung on terrified as Moniem, wrestled the SUV down the side of the dune. I’ve learnt that these things can go up to 45deg before tilting over but this was not the time to find out! With the engine roaring and the deflated tyres kicking up sand like a food blender, I decided now was not a good time to ask Moniem if there have ever been any accidents with this death defying trick. And yes, I should add, all this to more of Moniem’s favourite Arabic pop music blaring over the speakers. After slipping and sliding all the way down the side of the dune, Moniem brought the 4WD to a stop and looked at us with a cheeky smile. He clearly loved his job!
What do we think? It was exhilarating! Simply exhilarating. And since we looked like we enjoyed it, Moniem took us a couple more times on the dunes and we had a bash.
Soon the afternoon was gone and with evening approaching, we were taken to the company’s camp lodgings just next to the beach. The camp was quite simple consisting of Bedouin tents surrounding an open fire and a BBQ was being cooked up for dinner. The inland sea looked interesting but with the cool weather, swimming was not the foremost thought I had in my mind. Quite the opposite, we were happy to kick back in the tent and snooze. Whilst the drivers smoked shisha pipes around the fire, the jet lag finally took its toll and we caught some zzz’s in the tents before dinner.
After the dune bashing, we got Moniem to drop us off at Souq Waqif. It’s like the local market. In Qatar there are three of these markets. Souq Waqif is the biggest one selling spices, clothes, perfumes and pets. Rebuilt to the very last detail, it’s like a maze. You walk in these narrow alleys hemmed in on both sides by shops and if you were pulling your hand luggage, which we had with us, it’s not the easiest. We didn’t stay there for long and soon it was time to head back to the airport. Our one day transit in Doha had come to an end but we had a whale of a time.